Five years after the release of the original Vive and Oculus Rift, HTC and Oculus/Facebook have diverged when it comes to their VR headset offerings. In one camp, the Oculus Quest 2 is an affordable standalone VR headset that’s super simple to set up and use. HTC is in the other camp, with a PC-based headset for high-end VR enthusiasts. Even though the Vive Pro 2‘s starting price of $800 (headset only) is more than double the price of the Quest 2, it’s also a key component when it comes to creating possibly the best at-home VR experience you can get right now. But is it really worth all that cash?
Same Look, but Huge Upgrade
The Vive Pro 2 features a nearly identical design as the original Vive Pro, though HTC has made a handful of important tweaks. Not only has the company refreshed the headband strap to make it a bit more comfortable, HTC has also tweaked the headset to provide a 50-50 weight balance, which makes the Vive Pro 2 noticeably more pleasant to wear during long VR sessions. Another bonus of the Vive Pro 2’s updated design is that it’s also a bit easier to tilt the goggles up, so you can quickly see what’s going on in meatspace.
But the Vive Pro 2’s real improvements are its new optics. The headset now offers 5K resolution (2448 x 2448 for each eye), up to a 120Hz refresh rate, and a wider 120-degree horizontal field of view. Together, this makes for essentially the sharpest and most immersive VR experience you can get at home—short of $3,000 enterprise-level headsets like Varjo’s VR-3. Now I should mention that some headsets like the Valve Index offer a significantly taller vertical field of view (95 degrees for the Vive Pro 2 compared to 110 degrees for the Valve Index), which is something you’d definitely notice when comparing the two side-by-side. That said, with the Index only offering 1440 x 1600 pixels per eye compared to 2448 x 2448 for the Vive Pro 2, I’ll take the increased resolution almost every time, though it’d be nice if I didn’t have to choose.
Thanks to that 5K resolution (4896 x 2448 combined), the Vive Pro 2 visuals are particularly sharp. With pixels that small, HTC has almost completely eliminated the screen door effect that lets you see the space between pixels on lower-res headsets. And when combined with support for 120 Hz graphics, the Vive Pro 2 is able to avoid most of the major causes of motion-induced nausea. I rarely suffer from VR sickness, but I found that the upgrades in visual quality made worrying about any queasiness a complete afterthought.
The Vive Pro 2 still includes a handy manual IPD adjustment knob (which now goes from 57 to 70mm) and built-in spatial audio speakers that flip down from the side, which I’ve grown to prefer instead of plugging in my own headphones (which you can do using a USB-C dongle). Not having to fumble around to put on headphones when getting in VR just makes the whole process so much simpler, and I’ve found that having speakers hovering near your ears instead of strapped to the side of your head adds to overall immersion, assuming you’re in a relatively quiet space. I’m sorry but I don’t make the rules: There are no crying babies or barking dogs allowed in the VR room.
The High Price of Setup
If you’ve had a hard time tracking down a current-gen GPU during the pandemic (I’m in the same boat), the good news is that the Vive Pro 2’s minimum specs only require your computer to have an Intel Core i5-4950 or AMD Ryzen 1500 CPU and an Nvidia RTX 20-series or AMD Radeon 5000 GPU or newer, in addition to 8GB of RAM, an open USB 3.0 port, and DisplayPort 1.2 (or DP 1.4 for full-res) for video out, which honestly isn’t bad considering the Vive Pro 2’s massive resolution.
Unfortunately, the bigger issue is that you need the right add-ons and accessories to get the most out of the headset. The $800 Vive Pro 2 is already more expensive than the Valve Index and HP Reverb G2, and that’s before you factor in the need for two Steam VR base stations, two controllers, and whatever you might need to position the base stations appropriately (I use camera tripods). That means if you’re starting from scratch, you could be looking at an all-in price closer to $1,300 or more. Ouch.
On the bright side, because the Vive Pro 2 supports both HTC’s own controllers and the Valve Index controllers, you do have some freedom to mix and match, which is what I’d do if I was looking to create the most premium at-home VR experience. The standard HTC Vive controllers have remained basically unchanged since the original Vive came out, and while they’re totally serviceable, they lack the more sophisticated finger and grip sensors you get on the Valve Index controllers.
After you set up the accessories, you still need to install HTC’s Viveport suite—even though the Vive Pro 2 is fully compatible with Steam VR and Steam VR games. In most situations, this isn’t a big deal, but sometimes you might to switch back and forth between HTC’s and Valve’s VR platforms, which can get annoying after awhile.
I can’t fault HTC too much for not including wireless support out of the box given that none of the Vive Pro 2’s PC-based rivals even have the option, shelling out another $350 on top of everything else just to get rid of the wired tether becomes a very pricey luxury. It also reduces the Vive Pro 2’s max refresh rate from 120Hz down to 90Hz.
Virtual Reality Nirvana
If you can stomach the price tag, pairing the Vive Pro 2 with Valve Index controllers results in some of the most rewarding VR you can get right now, and I’d argue it’s hands down the best way to play Half-Life: Alyx. The Vive Pro 2’s higher resolution makes graphics look extra sharp, to the point where the headset can expose some of the low-res texture effects used in older VR titles. When you add the Index controllers to provide the hand and finger-tracking you really need to fully enjoy the VR masterpiece that is Half-Life: Alyx, and you can immediately see and feel the reward for your investment.
The Vive Pro 2’s high resolution makes text appear extra crisp, which helps you feel like you’re really in another VR world instead of constantly reminding you of the limits of your tech. The headset’s spatial audio creates an encompassing stage for 3D sound that really does add to the effect that things are happening around you, rather than being piped in from the box wired to your headset. And while sometimes I did notice some light and snippets of the real world peeking in from the bottom edge of the goggles, I didn’t feel like it was enough to meaningfully detract from my adventures.
Perhaps my biggest complaint (which is relatively minor overall) with the Vive Pro 2’s performance is that it seems like HTC didn’t upgrade the headset’s built-in passthrough cameras, which results in a somewhat low-res view when trying to look at the outside world without taking off the headset entirely.
Here’s the hard part, because trying to decide if the Vive Pro 2 (along with any accessories you might need) is the right headset for you largely depends on your taste and how much you’re willing to spend. If you’re looking solely at headset specs, the HP Reverb G2’s 2160 x 2160 per eye resolution is close enough to the Vive Pro 2 that you’re not sacrificing much in exchange for an HMD that costs $200 less. The problem is that the Reverb G2 doesn’t come with native support for the Index controllers, which makes mixing and matching a lot more tedious, especially if you don’t feel like hacking in support for the Index controller on your own.
The Valve Index headset has a lower resolution of 1440 x 1600 per eye, but it has a higher max refresh rate of 144 Hz. The Valve Index VR kit, which includes everything you need to jump into VR for $1,000 (headset, controllers, base stations), is a much better value. Alternatively, if you want something way more affordable, easier to use, and doesn’t need to be wired to a nearby PC, the Oculus Quest 2 is a fantastic way to dip your toes into VR.
However, if you want the freedom to pair what is essentially the highest-res consumer VR headset with what are currently the best VR controllers, the Vive Pro 2 is the one for you. Just be prepared for all the money that’s going to fly out of your wallet in order to make that happen. It’s pricey, but as the saying goes, you get what you pay for. Now I’m just hoping that the next generation of VR headsets can bring down the cost a little bit.